By Babatunde Ayedoju
Today, workers all over Nigeria join their counterparts in over 140 other countries to celebrate Workers’ Day. That has been a yearly routine in Nigeria since the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) government of Kano State first observed it as a public holiday in 1980, before it became a national holiday on May 1, 1981.
The 2023 edition is somehow unique because it is coming on the heels of the Federal Government’s decision to raise the salaries of some federal civil servants by 40 percent. In a memo released by the Ekpo Nta-led National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, the President Muhammadu Buhari government announced that 144,766 federal civil servants under the Consolidated Public Service Salary Structure would benefit from the new 40 percent peculiar allowance it introduced.
However, university workers, who are under the Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure, and medical doctors, who work for the Federal Government, will also not benefit from the pay rise as they are under the Consolidated Medical Salary Scale.
Other categories of federal workers who will not benefit from the peculiar allowance are nurses, non-academic workers in tertiary institutions, the police and members of the armed forces, among others.
In the memo, Mr Ekpo said, “I refer to my letter No. SWC/S/04/S,651/11/271 dated 24th of February, 2023 and the conclusions of the 11th meeting of the Presidential Committee on Salaries held on 7th of March, 2023 on the above-mentioned subject and convey approval for the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning to implement the peculiar allowance attached herewith for staff on the Consolidated Public Service Salary Structure.
“This approval takes effect from 1st of January, 2023 and the estimated sum of seventy nine billion, three hundred and seventy-three million, three hundred and forty thousand, nine hundred and fifty-nine Naira (N79,373,340,959.00) per annum required to implement it for the 144,766 staff on CONPSS will be funded from the treasury.
“The commission will periodically monitor the implementation of this approval through salary inspections.”
According to the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, the pay rise was in view of the current economic reality, to cushion the effect of rising inflation, cost of living, transportation, housing and electricity tariff.
Though, this may sound like good news to workers who will benefit from it, it drew criticism and resentment from others who were excluded from it. For example, unions such as Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives, Federal Health Institutions (NANNM-FHI) have in separate statements expressed their disapproval of the move by the Federal Government.
As workers mark their day this year, will the 40 percent increase in the salaries of some federal workers alleviate their suffering? So far, how effective has the civil service been? Is it still as effective as it used to be? What are the rooms for improvement and how can such improvements be carried out?
Elder statesman, Pa Oyekan Arije, described the 40 percent increase as a divide and rule tactic that might be resisted because it does not cover all workers. He also noted that there is nothing wrong with the civil service, blaming the political class for messing up the country.
Arije recommended that the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission should look into the salary structure generally and improve on it, instead of adopting a “divide and rule” tactic, even as he expressed fear that the current government might be setting a landmine for the incoming government.
Another senior citizen, Comrade Tunde Taiwo, said that the 40 percent increase in salary is grossly inadequate and cannot alleviate the suffering of workers. While pointing out that the inflationary progression had made a nonsense of the increase, the retired civil servant said, “cost of living has gone up astronomically beyond imagination. School fees have gone up by 500 percent. What I am paying now is five times what I paid six years ago. Medical bills, feeding, building costs, house rent and transportation are not within reach. Workers and their dependants are wallowing in abject poverty.”
While lamenting that the civil service is not as effective as it should be because the workers are not adequately motivated, Comrade Taiwo said, “Although salaries are paid regularly now, the wherewithal to perform is not there. Equipment and Facilities are inadequate. Acute shortage of personnel is another factor, the personnel available are overworked. It is so terrible and ridiculous in the Education Sector. A great number of teachers have retired without replacement.”
He recommended that the government should provide equipment and facilities and recruit additional personnel. His words: “Increase in salary should correspond with increase in cost of living, conducive environment for workers to perform should be created, continuous workshops and seminars for better performance should be instituted.”
Professor Simon Ehiabhi from the Department of History and International Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, described the pay rise as controversial, because it excludes some workers such as medical practitioners and lecturers, expressing concern that it may not be effective in alleviating poverty.
While blaming the ineffectiveness of the civil service on political interference, Professor Ehiabhi said, “The moment civil service is structured to service the interest of an individual, it would be at the mercy of that individual. You can’t have an effective civil service when individual interest is placed above the interest of the state, and that is what we have in Nigeria currently.”
The don recommended regular training and retraining of civil servants alongside proper recruitment based on merit, saying, “Commissioners and other top government functionaries should be retired civil servants who understand how the system works and will be able to pilot the affairs of the service in the best way possible.”
Similarly, Professor Oluwatosin Fashina from the Department of Agricultural Extension and Communication Technology, Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), stated that the pay rise would not solve the problem of poverty because people who trade in the market would increase their prices, in order to benefit from the largesse.
He said that in case fuel subsidy is removed by the incoming government, the increment in salary will be of no effect because it would be as if the money has been taken back from the workers.
The professor of Agricultural Science suggested that government should help people to be more productive by providing amenities. “That way, people will be able to make money for themselves in a way that is better than merely increasing salary,” he added.
Similarly, Dr Daniel Ikuomola from the Department of Criminology and Security Studies, chided the Federal Government for introducing such a move at the tail end of its tenure. He noted that since everybody buys from the same market at the same price, salary increase should cut across all workers.
While lamenting that the civil service is not performing optimally, the seasoned criminologist recommended that government should provide better working environment through basic infrastructure, and work on controlling inflation.
His words: “Improvement in salaries must cut across all sectors of the economy, while the government works on improving workers’ productive. All sectors of the economy should be productive because all ministries are interconnected. Inflation should also be controlled. People should not be earning millions and they can’t buy anything. Above all, we need to stop being dependent on oil.”
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